Research Strategies for History Graduate Students

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Research Methods

Research StrategiesHIST 7405: Research MethodsSarah Lawrence CollegeMargot NoteOctober 24, 2016

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Course Requirements and GradingPass/fail courseAttendance (60%) and written work (40%)

Written WorkJournal of 5 short entries Due March 6, 2017Can be submitted individually after each session or all at once Each entry should be dated, signed, and at least two paragraphs Your journal will be returned to you with comments

Written WorkFirst four entries discuss:What surprised you?What skills or resources were new to you?What did you already know? Describe a specific idea the session has given you for your research process

Written WorkFifth entry considers your research process for your thesisWhere will you look for information? What sources and information resources are available to you locally? What type of research are you interested in carrying out?What sorts of materials will you need to find for that type of project?

Archives VisitBrainstorm about locationsPossible dates and timesTransportation optionsFebruary 2017

Do you know your thesis topic?

AgendaHistorical Categories of InquiryResearch QuestionsRecall/PrecisionSearch StrategiesBeyond TextSelf-Care for ResearchersDiscussion/Questions

Historical Categories of Inquiry

Five Major CategoriesCause and effect Change and progressionTurning point Using the past Through their eyes

Cause and EffectMost familiar category Ask questions about the causes and consequences of past eventsOur answers, our historical interpretations, take the form of stories about causes and consequences

Change and ProgressionWe also ask questions about what has changed and what has remained the same over timeAnswers to questions about change and progression connect events and give meaning to the chronological sequence of events

Turning PointWe wonder if the change was so dramatic that the topic of study was a historical turning pointBy studying the historical records we are able to reach conclusions that some events or developments so dramatically changed a societys ideas, choices, and ways of living that some paths of development could no longer be followed and others became more likely or possible.

Using the PastIn other cases we look to the past as a guide to our presentWe want to know about the particular course of events that shaped our presentWe are using the past to seek guidance in the form of lessons of history that can help us grapple with current problems

Through Their EyesWe find it both necessary and fascinating to examine the ways in which people of different times, places, and conditions made sense of the worldWe consider how their experiences, needs, and worldviews affected their actions and the course of events We try to imagine their world through their eyesAvoid presentism

What category will you use?

What is a good research question?

Research QuestionsAddress something of significance that interests scholarsHave to be researchableAsk questions that havent been definitely answeredTry to make sense of the world

Good questions have the power to turn meaningless information into meaningful answers. And while answers have the power to change what you think, questions have the power to change how you thinkor, even better, to make you think.

Jim Cullen, Essaying the Past

HistoriographySystematic method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing existing body of workProvides understanding how people formed argumentsAllow researchers to become part of a larger dialogue Determines if project is work is worth taking on

Informed SerendipityNon-strategic research methodHistorians: expert researchersStudents: coping strategiesIncomplete and inefficient

Recall and Precision

RecallPercentage of all relevant sources that are actually located during the search

PrecisionThe percentage of all located sources that are actually relevant to the researchers interests.

Recall vs. PrecisionOften inversely relatedGoal is to find important information, including things outside the normal scope of reading materials

How will you use recall or precision?

Search Strategies

ConsultationInvolves locating references by corresponding with othersLow recall: limited by knowledge, memory, and biasesHigh precision: pre-screened for relevance Ability to locate unpublished materialsInternet has increased its utility

BrowsingLooking through materials (e.g., library shelves, journal indexes) High recall, since the amount of information collected is limited only by the researchers willingness to continue searchingLow precision Technology is improving the efficiency and effectiveness

Journal RunIdentify central journal in an area of interestLocates the run of volumes of journalUnlikely to meet need for information on a topic of the normal degree of specificity associated with a research projectUseful more for general monitoring of the environment

Interactive scanning

Start with a large set of results retrieved on a broad concept As you scan retrieved items, the concept becomes clearerThrow out redundant terms and include in relevant terms

Searching Keyword SearchingSubject SearchingPublisher SearchingSeries SearchingAuthor SearchingIdentify an author who has published in the area of interestFind the author's CV, which might contain obscure or unpublished materials

Subject IndexesSearch bibliographic descriptions with title, abstract, authorsControlled-vocabulary terms (e.g., subject headings, index terms)High recall and low precision Precision improved by combining keywords and controlled-vocabulary searches Search-refining capabilities such as combining or limiting searches

Building BlocksDivide a query into facetsCreate sets of conceptually related concepts by combining related terms and/or synonyms using the Boolean OR operatorAdd concepts together using Boolean AND operator

Pearl GrowingUtilizes bibliographic databasesStart with a very precise search to find one key relevant citationExamine index terms and free text terms found in the relevant citation Any new terms, not in your initial strategy, are incorporatedContinues until you have identified all additional relevant terms Can be used for citations, subjects, internet pages

Successive FractionsFirst facet represents a major topic Each subsequent facet is added as an AND condition to the results setEach result set becomes smaller until number of retrieved references becomes manageable Can save timeSmaller result sets of higher relevance

Most Specific Facet FirstStart the search with the most specific aspect of the queryUsually selected where there is precision Appropriate for narrow topicsIf set size is too small, then use pearl growingIf set size is too larger, then successively fractionate

Lowest Postings Facet FirstAnticipate the facet with the lowest number of resultsReview search results Time is better spent on sifting, rather than adding more termsUse pearl growing or successively fractionate

Drop a FacetWhen the number of references in a result set falls below an acceptable level (or reaches zero), drop the least relevant facetYields a more sensitive result set that is less vulnerable to the vagaries of abstracting or indexing practice

Related Articles FeaturesMachine equivalent of pearl growingOne limitation of this automated approach is that articles may be related across multiple characteristics, not simply those that are the focus of our search

Citation SearchingIdentify an influential articleLocate all of the articles that cite itProcess can be repeated using the new materials as the starting pointUseful for tracing the orderly progression of a body of literatureRecall and precision tend to be highLooks forward

Footnote ChasingIdentify an influential articleLocate useful information by searching the reference sectionHigh precision, since other authors have reviewed the materialRecall is dependent on the quality of the literature review in the source materialsLooks back

Berry-pickingStart with a queryIf you find an answer or a partial answer, refine your searchUseful for scoping a research question, defining concepts, or searching for specific information Meta-strategy using footnote chasing, citation searching, journal run, browsing, subject searches, and author searches

Serendip-o-maticConnects your sources to digital materials located in libraries, museums, and archives around the worldHelps you discover photographs, documents, maps and other primary sourcesSerendip-o-matic.com

What search strategies will work for you?

Beyond Text

Historical SourcesImages Oral HistoryOnline ResourcesSocial MediaInternational Resources

How can you incorporate non-text sources into your research?

Self-Care for Researchers

Planning SkillsResearch takes longer than you expectBreak down infrastructure of workUse your calendar to create blocks of writing timeWrite regularlyFigure out priorities

Management SkillsMake a to-do list paper or digitalType citations of everything you readFootnote as you goNever put your work into a tool that you cannot easily export and migrate to another platform Backup to off-site options

Getting UnstuckPomodoro Technique Productive ProcrastinationAlways Be ClosingThorn before the Rose

What are your strategies? How can you be more kind to yourself with this project?

How do you know that youve done good research at the end of the project?

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